As the Jewish Community Center of Bayonne prepared to present its first "Distinguished Community Leader" award, there was no question in anyone’s mind who that would be: Marvin Epstein, a long-time supporter not only of his hometown’s JCC, but of myriad other religious and civic organizations in Bayonne.
"This new award recognizes a person who has not only helped the JCC in some way, but has also been a guiding light in the community at large," said executive director Ellen Goldberg. "Mr. Epstein is a prominent figure in Bayonne, and it is our pleasure to honor him." The award will be presented at a gala at the JCC on Sunday, Oct. 7, which will begin at 5 p.m.
"I am tremendously honored and thrilled to receive this award at this time of my life," said Epstein, who characterized his JCC involvement as "a natural calling." Epstein dates his relationship with the JCC back to the early 1950s.
Ruth Preminger, an event co-chair, noted Epstein’s "numerous charitable activities and major involvement in a variety of civic and Jewish functions throughout his adult life."
While running his own business, Bayonne Plumbing Supply (now helmed by son Richard), Epstein joined in running many civic and community organizations and initiatives in the city. He held several positions at Temple Emanuel, including board president and president of the men’s club; he was vice-president of the Jewish Community Center and chairman of the gifts division for the original building; he was president of the Jewish Community Council; he chaired numerous UJA drives; and chaired the Bayonne chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews.
Epstein’s volunteering extended to the wider Bayonne community as well. He was the fund-raising chairman of Bayonne Medical Center, and worked to raise the money for a new wing (he remains an emeritus board member today); served on Bayonne’s Industrial Commission and the mayor’s advisory board; served on the board of directors of the Susquehanna Otswego Railroad System; and was an active member of the local Kiwanis Club.
Epstein’s efforts to improve Bayonne, raise funds for Jewish institutions and the hospital, and steer religious and community organizations have given the beneficiaries of his work ample opportunities to honor him in the past. Eldest daughter Elyse Deutsch noted, "He’s been honored so many times before." She added that he and Janice, his wife of 58 years, are "relentless contributors" to the community.
This awards gala, which is also a JCC fund-raiser, is the latest funnel for the Epsteins’ energies and enthusiasm, as they work to bring in as many ads as possible for the commemorative journal, called The Notebook. Epstein put together special lists of invitees from diverse areas of his life business, school, the hospital and other boards who will be attending the dinner and have placed many congratulatory ads in The Notebook. "My father is a great writer and expresses himself beautifully," said Deutsch. "He wrote the most beautiful letter about what the JCC, and his lifetime of involvement there, has meant to him, and sent it to people he knows, asking for their support."
Epstein points to his own father’s history in Bayonne’s Jewish community as the blueprint for his volunteerism. Among other positions, his father was chairman of the JCC’s original building committee, as the organization made the move from space in the Masonic Temple to its own building in 195′. "I followed in his footsteps because of my own calling," said Epstein.
Daughter Elyse, who is involved in Jewish activities in Scotch Plains, said, "It’s in the genes. I had great role models who showed me you just do it, without thinking, and make your life meaningful and worth something."
The gala will be an elaborate cocktail party, with entertainment by fellow Bayonne native and pianist Martin Henne and his trio, a favorite of the Epstein family.
"The Bayonne community is tight," said Hara Benjamin-Garritano, publicity chair for the JCC. "Many people in town know Marvin and Janice and all they’ve done." Benjamin-Garritano said Epstein’s letters to the editor appear frequently in the local paper, as he continues to speak out on a wide range of civic issues." He’s so well-spoken and classy a very special package."